June 10, 2010

Who Owns Social Media Monitoring? The need to understand, monitor and mine social media has prompted a scramble for ownership, authority and control among marketers, ad agencies, digital specialists and PR guys. Like the blind men and the elephant each has a legitimate claim and each has a partial view. The promise of social media is insight, conversations and engagement. So naturally the players responsible for these marketing or communications functions will scramble to embrace, control and deploy the newest tools. Interestingly each functional team is also a consumer of the “take” eager to interpret, use and apply the learnings from social media monitoring for messaging, customer engagement, media pitching and improved usability. Theoretically, according to the Useful Social Media people, this should be a team sport organized and orchestrated by a CMO. “A company’s communications team has a key role to play in the internal development of social media engagement, by incorporating key components of social media within the organizational communication strategy.” But this text book thinking never happens in real life where each team competes for the prize and struggles for limited executive level attention and resources. Consider the contenders … Marketing Team. Charged with creating the brand and moving products , they are keenly interested in what’s being said about the company, the product sets and the competition. Looking for any competitive opening or advantage, they imagine that a silver bullet or a short term tactical idea might emerge from the haze of tweets, blog posts, comments, retweets and videos online. According to the Aberdeen Group, “the marketing organization was the earliest adopter of social media monitoring and analysis and continues to be the group that utilizes consumer insights gleaned from online conversations the most.” Agency of Record. Steward of the brand and Royal High Sheriff of the messaging realm, the agency of record commands the macro viewpoint on all communications and plays the role of integrator and adjudicator on all branding, positioning, personality and messaging topics. Agencies eager to maintain their posture not only assert their overview but are interested to see how social media anticipates, reacts and reviews their work. Digital Agencies. These are the guys who actually understand the dynamics of social media because they grasp the underlying technology and as digital natives instinctively mirror the psychology of consumers as well as their online behavior. Often seen as subservient to AOR partners, these agencies actually create the content and the digital assets, manage a lot of the labor-intense work of collecting, reading, weighting and assessing social media conversations. They generally own the software or tools needed to monitor the social sphere and believe that they have a lock on crafting engagement strategy and reading the tea leaves to draw out and operationalize tactical and strategic implications. PR Agencies. Reputation managers tasked with positioning and presenting the brand by serving as spokesmen and engaging the media, they have seen social media as a way to garner greater prestige with and among clients plus a greater share of the marketing spend. Since PR has traditionally focused on reputation management, earned media, third party validation and awareness building, it logically follows, they argue, that social media falls into their portfolio. With a macro focus on overall corporate and brand objectives and the track record of identifying and engaging opinion-leaders and media decision-makers, PR guys claim to have the right perspective to understand, interpret and apply the lessons gleaned from social media most effectively. Get their broader perspective here. The struggle to “own” social media monitoring is an opportunity to advance the cause of integrated marketing in disguise. Here are 5 potential moves. 1. Marketing should assert leadership and assign roles, scope the labor-intensive workload and decide which is the most cost-effective resource to get the job done. 2. Similarly marketing should determine which tools are used and how the raw intelligence is processed and by whom. 3. This is an opportunity to force disparate agencies to work together to bring multi-perspectives and skill sets to bear in understanding what is really being said and in separating the considerable noise from the feint but potentially powerful signals being sent. 4. Collectively the players should determine what gets measured and what methodology is used to measure social media. Frequency, intensity, thought leadership, weighting and influence are all loosely-defined terms in need of common definitions. Different software tools measure different things. A dedicated collective effort could determine which tools do what and which work best together. 5. The collective should then determine what to do...
4 Social Media Mining Metrics Social media potentially offers clues about customer mindsets, sensibilitities and brand affinity and awareness. The trick, in mining the flood of conversations, is to separate the abundant noise from the not-so-obvious signals and to analyze the yield in ways that offer marketers actionable intelligence to identify competitive strengths or vulnerabilities, shape messages, identify informal opinion leaders and influencers or suggest the best choice of media channels. In undertaking this labor-intensive effort you need two key things; tools and skillful analysts who can sift through the conversations, validate or invalidate the built-in assumptions that are baked into many of the tools and to find the insights that will be valuable for brands and their marketers. Mining social media cannot be fully automated. But the trolling can be. An array of free tools can get you started. My favorites for scanning the broad waterfront are Social Mention, Sency, YackTrack and Addictomatic. For peering into the blogosphere Technorati and Google Blogs are the most reliable tools with the deepest reach, though results are mostly a function of the key search terms and phrases used. Since each one is built using a different logic, savvy social surfers use several so they can get a broad sweep of the social graph, expose different facets of the social media universe and rely on each tool compensating for the shortcomings of the other. In assessing and using the intelligence gained, I am evolving four key metrics or dimensions to help clients understand and use whatever we turn up. VOLUME. Count the total number of conversations and the relative size of the conversations to calculate baseline awareness. By comparing this number relative to conversations about competitors or about the business vertical, you can understand the relative positioning of your brand. By analyzing the volume by audience segment or over time we can plot the impact of marketing campaigns, promotions, social media activity or news coverage. With a clear sense of awareness and positioning, all kinds of marketing strategy and tactics can be brought to bear. SENTIMENT. Do they care and are they for you or against you. This vector seeks to understand receptivity to and perceptions of brands. Most of the free tools use baked-in business rules about word proximity and phraseology to determine sentiment. This is useful but not necessarily accurate since it depends on tables of words and phrases pre-determined to be positive or negative. As a result most tools return bell curve results with the hump in the middle labeled “neutral” which means that the data scanned doesn’t have a preponderance of good or bad words associated with your brand. And while its true that most consumers are ambivalent about most brands; it would be a mistake to accept a “neutral” rating on its face. Sifting thru conversations is required to separate “machine neutrality” from genuine neutrality. INTENSITY. Borrowing technique from signals intelligence analysis, this dimension seeks to understand where the conversation originates, who responds and if there are changes at specific times or over defined time periods. Gathering this data can suggest seasonality; trigger-events or begin to identify opinion-leaders and market-makers. IOLs. Informal opinion leaders are bloggers, tweeters, videographers, uploaders, commentators, friends or frequent site visitors who direct, distract, side track, explain or enrich the online conversation. Understanding who they are, what opinions or perspectives they represent and gauging their reach, their relative circle of influence and the consistency of their POVs guides marketers in shaping media and PR outreach. IOLs are the poor man’s focus group to test new initiatives, float trial balloons or drive instant feedback. These four vectors shape the utility of social media mining and transform raw data into useful intelligence that can be nimbly applied to messaging, marketing and media. All four are evolving as the tool sets and the analysts using them become more familiar with the social universe and how it impacts brands and business categories. Over time, norms and best practices will emerge. But for the moment, these four pathways provide the best approaches to understand and utilize what customers are saying about us and our brands.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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